Rare is the opportunity for a five-win team to make a bowl trip, but there are still a few more pages left to this Nebraska football season. Go West, young men. The Huskers found out Sunday they will take on UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl the day after Christmas in Santa Clara, California.
Set for primetime on a Saturday night, the game will mark the third time in four years Nebraska has played the Bruins, with UCLA besting NU in both 2012 and 2013.
This UCLA team arrives to the bowl with an 8-4 mark, having lost to Arizona State, Stanford, Washington State and USC.
It's the first time since the 2007 Cotton Bowl that the Huskers have played in a bowl not named the Holiday, Gator or Capital One. Nebraska head coach Mike Riley said in a statement he was pleased at the opportunity to play again. Build was a word he used.
"This has been a great group to coach throughout the season, and we look forward to another game with this team and being able to compete against a strong UCLA team in the bowl game," Riley said. "The bowl practices and additional game will allow us to continue to build as a program."
Speaking about the possibility of a bowl game earlier in the week, Nebraska's first-team all-conference punter Sam Foltz said another game was "a huge deal" for this team.
"For me, I'm living out my childhood dream," Foltz said. "And every single game I get to play and put on that Nebraska helmet and jersey, it's a big deal for me. I think we just need to start having some consistency through all phases of the game -- offense, defense special teams. We need to put it all together.
The Bruins and Huskers shared one common opponent this year. UCLA rallied to beat BYU 24-23 two weeks after the Cougars stunned Nebraska 33-28 on a Hail Mary.
UCLA is led by freshmen quarterback Josh Rosen, who burst onto the scene by throwing for 3,351 yards, completing 59.5 percent of his passes, connecting on 20 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
The Bruins spread the ball around well, with at least three receivers with 37 catches. Jordan Payton has proven the top weapon, catching 75 passes for 1,069 yards, with Thomas Duarte catching 49 for 820.
On the ground, first-team all-conference running back Paul Perkins had 1,275 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns this season, averaging 5.7 yards per touch.
Nebraska and UCLA have met 12 times before. Six wins for each school.
Riley has also coached in this bowl before, too, though it was known as the Emerald Bowl in 2007 when his Oregon State team defeated Maryland 21-14.
The Huskers are one of three 5-7 teams needed to fill out the record 80 slots reserved for bowl teams. Minnesota and San Jose State were the others. The Gophers were given a date with Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl. Nebraska's high Academic Progress Rate score was what actually put NU first in line among 5-win teams.
Considering Nebraska's situation, the program couldn't have asked for a bowl with a better time slot.
The Foster Farms Bowl people worked hard to secure the Dec. 26 slot, a Saturday night, with kickoff set for 8:15 CST at Levi's Stadium, which is home to the San Francisco 49ers and the upcoming Super Bowl.
Six years ago the bowl was played in the same time slot and received a 5.3 TV rating for a USC-Boston College matchup. It was the second-highest rating for a bowl game on ESPN at the time.
The Foster Farms Bowl wanted a local team if it could get it. UCLA accomplishes that. But the bowl's executive director Gary Cavalli also believes Big Red fans will represent. Cavalli said the game brings together "two iconic brands with a great history."
The Huskers have always had a strong alumni support system in California and the late start on Saturday night could allow Nebraskans to make a trip in time for kickoff.
"I've been talking to a lot of people in Nebraska who have said they could fly out Christmas night, and with the time change, get here," Cavalli said. "Or they can leave here on the 26th and get here in plenty of time for the game. I think it will work."
The Huskers hope it will work as a springboard into 2016 after a challenging first season in the Riley era.
"One more opportunity to get better. San Fran here we come," came a tweet from the Nebraska football account after the bowl matchup was made official
Foltz, who will be a senior leader on the team next year, knows these extra practices can't be wasted.
"We got to get some of these younger guys geared up and ready to go for next season because it's going to be upon us before we know it," he said. "We're going to work even harder to get Nebraska football to where we want Nebraska football to be. I think this next month will be crucial for Nebraska football and we'll have a better idea of what we're going to have in the future."